Why you should never tell your child, “Don’t run across the street”


Yesterday, I talked about Yahoo’s misguided promise to not screw up their acquisition of Tumblr. I said it was a bad idea because it calls attention to their prior screw ups and because it doesn’t tell the world where they want to take the company.

The language of the brain is pictures, sounds, and feelings. Saying, “we promise to not screw it up” is a poor choice of words because people “see” you doing the very thing you promise not to do.

If I tell you I saw a pink turtle, your mind will process my statement by creating a mental picture of a pink turtle. However, if I tell you that I did NOT see a pink turtle, you will still see a pink turtle. The brain can only process positive information. You can’t make a mental picture of NOT seeing something because the brain can’t process negative pictures, sounds, or feelings.

If you tell your child, “Don’t run across the street,” the message their brain sees is “run across the street.” You have planted the visual image of them doing the very thing you don’t want them to do. Instead, tell them to “stay on this side of the street” or “look both ways twice before you walk across the street.”

Sure, as adults we have the facility to translate the negation of a thought to its positive form, but the additional step involved in doing so means there is a lesser chance that the information you want to communicate will get through.

If you want to communicate more clearly, be conscious not to plant negative suggestions in others’ minds. Speak in the positive. Say “It’s a pleasure” instead of “no problem”. Use the words “Call me” instead of “Don’t hesitate to call.” Tell clients, “The trial will go smoothly,” and not, “Don’t worry about the trial.”

Tell people what to do rather than what not to do. And please, tell them what you will do, not that you “won’t screw it up.”

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Yahoo buys Tumblr, promises “not to screw it up”


So Yahoo buys Tumblr, the micro blogging platform for 1.1 billion and then announce that they “promise not to screw it up“.

That’s inspiring, isn’t it?

It says, “yeah, we know we’ve messed up before, but we’re going to try real hard not to do that again.”

I know, they want to assuage the fears of some 100 million customers they seem to know won’t be happy about the acquisition. But from a marketing standpoint, “we won’t screw it up” is not a good message.

Why call attention to your past screw ups? Why tell the world what you won’t do?

Can you imagine an attorney getting a big case and issuing a press release that says, “I won’t lose this one”.

Tell the world what you will do, not what you won’t. Tell the world where you are going, so they can see why they should follow.

Apparently, more than a few Tumblr customers don’t believe the promise and have migrated their blogs from Tumblr to WordPress.com. But while WordPress.com might have a track record of “not screwing up,” customers who depend on their blogs for business purposes should avoid the hosted WordPress.com and opt for WordPress.org, the self-hosted, open-source version that I and millions of other websites use.

With the recent demise of Posterous, millions of people found out the hard way what happens when your hosted website shuts down.

But shutting down the service that hosts your business website is only one of the ways a host can “screw up”. If Yahoo/Tumblr, WordPress.com, Blogger, or any of the other hosted platforms change something, customers have to live with those changes, even if they don’t like them. If they want to do something that isn’t allowed, they’re also out of luck.

I use WordPress.org because it is the best software for the job. I host it myself because I want complete control over what I can and can’t do.

And I promised myself I won’t screw it up.